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Ki Tisa
Turn Saturday into Shabbat Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 March 2017

In Parshat Ki Tisa (Shmot 31:16-17) we read a very familiar statement:

“Veshamru B’nei Yisrael et HaShabbat la’asot et HaShabbat lidorotam brit olam…”

“B’nei Yisrael shall observe Shabbat, to make Shabbat an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and B’nei Yisrael it is an everlasting sign; for in six days God made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day God abstained from work and God rested.”

You may recognize this statement which is recited on Friday night during the Maariv service right before the amida (silent devotion) as well as during the Shabbat morning Kiddush.

What do the words “laasot et HaShabbat” (to make Shabbat) refer to?

Saturday is just a regular day unless we consciously make it into something special. In order to do this, we need to prepare for Shabbat and get excited about it all week long.

Each morning, we recite the Shir Shel Yom, Song of the Day stating: “Today is the first day in the week of Shabbat…”, “Today is the second day in the week of Shabbat…”

The Mechilta states that other mitzvot are physically there for us to observe: We pick up a lulav (palm branch), bless it and shake it on Sukkot. We sit in a sukka, make the blessing and eat there…

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that with Shabbat, we have to physically “make” the day better than a regular day. We learn this from the word “laasot” (to make a tikkun, correction).

The same way that Avraham hurried to “make” or prepare the choice calf for his guests (as he could not serve it uncooked) so too do we have to turn an ordinary Saturday into a special day.

We are able to transform the day when we refrain from melacha (work), prepare special foods in advance, recite special prayers and sing Shabbat songs.

As it says in Yishayahu 58:13-14: “If you restrain your foot because it is Shabbat; refrain from accomplishing your own needs on My holy day; if you proclaim Shabbat ‘a delight’ and the holy day of God ‘honored’ and you honor it by not engaging in your own affairs, from seeking your own needs or discussing the forbidden- then you will delight in God…”

May we all be blessed with a spiritual and meaningful Shabbat.

 
Did the merits of the Patriarchs expire? Print E-mail
Friday, 26 February 2016

In Honor of Amy Halickman’s Volunteer of the Year Award

 

In Parshat Ki Tisa, after the sin of the golden calf God wanted to destroy B’nai Yisrael and start a new nation with Moshe being the father. Moshe argued that it would not be a good idea to destroy the entire nation and start again. He reminded God of the forefathers in Shmot 32:13: “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your Self and said to them ‘I will make your descendents as numerous as the stars of heaven, and all this land of which I have spoken, I will give to your descendents and they will inherit it forever.’”

 

In sentence 14 we see that God listened to Moshe: “And God reconsidered the intent of doing evil that He said He would do to His people.”

 

Why did God reconsider after Moshe mentioned Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?

 

According to Midrash Tanchuma, the fact that Avraham passed the Ten Nisyonot (tests) should make up for the fact that B’nai Yisrael transgressed the Ten Commandments immediately after they were given.

 

If their punishment was to be by fire, the fact that Avraham was thrown into the fiery furnace for the sanctification of God’s name should compensate for their actions.

 

If their punishment was to be by sword, then the merit of Yitzchak who stuck out his neck in Akedat Yitzvak (the binding of Isaac) should save them.

 

If they deserve exile, the merit of Yaakov who was sent away by his parents to Charan should redeem them.

 

Midrash Tanchuma continues: If the promise to Avraham which You swore by Your own name was to make them a great nation then how are You cutting them off after only seven generations- Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Levi, Kehat, Aram, Moshe?

 

At that point, God forgave them.

 

Do we still have Zechut Avot, merit of the Patriarchs today? If the Jewish nation sins will God still pardon us based on the merits of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov the way that He did after the sin of the golden calf?

 

The Talmud, Shabbat 55a teaches that Zechut Avot expired. According to Rav it has not existed since the days of Hoshea (Hoshea 2:12), Shmuel’s opinion is that it has not existed since the days of Chazael (Kings II, 13:22), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that it has not existed since the days of Eliyahu (Kings I, 18:36) while Rabbi Yochanan states that it has not existed since the days of Chizkiyahu (Yishayahu 9:6) as it says: “For the increase of sovereignty, and for endless peace, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to establish it and with justice and righteousness, from now and forever- the zeal of the Lord of Hosts performs this.”

 

According to Rashi, from Chizkiyahu’s time and onward the salvation of the Jewish people will come through “the zeal of the Lord of Hosts”, not through the merit of the Patriarchs.

 

The merits of the Patriarchs saved us in the past but now it is our turn to merit God’s mercy by following in the footsteps of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, spreading the word of God throughout the Land of Israel and following a path of righteousness and justice.

 
B’nai Yisrael, a Nation of Baalei Tshuva Print E-mail
Friday, 14 February 2014

In Parshat Ki Tisa we read about Chet HaEgel, the sin of the golden calf.

 

How can it be that B’nei Yisrael are seeking other gods forty days after Maamad Har Sinai where they heard the commandments “I am the Lord” and “You shall have no other gods but Me?”

 

Nehama Leibowitz points out that such a thing was conceivable. The assumption that people who have scaled the loftiest heights of Divine communication are not capable of descending into the depths of depravity is without foundation.

 

In Melachim Alef 18 we read the story of Eliyahu HaNavi on Har Carmel. Nehama Leibowitz explains that this story is parallel to the story of the Egel HaZahav. B’nai Yisrael saw fire descend from heaven in answer to the prayer of Eliyahu HaNavi, yet the next day, B’nei Yisrael persecuted the true prophets, broke down their alters and reverted back to idolatry. Eliyahu HaNavi who was the hero of Har Carmel was forced to escape to Har Sinai and hide in the desert.

 

According to Nehama Leibowitz, miracles however awe inspiring cannot change human nature. They can only momentarily shake the human soul out of its every day concepts, but they cannot in themselves effect a lasting transformation.

 

Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:32 explains: “It is not in the nature of man reared in slavery, in bricks and straw and the like to wash his hands of their dirt and suddenly fight the giants of Cnaan. God in His wisdom contrived that they wander in the wilderness until they had become schooled in courage since it is well known that physical hardships toughen and the converse produces faintheartedness. A new generation was born which had not been accustomed to slavery and degradation.”

 

Nehama Leibowitz adds that Maamad Har Sinai, their first religious experience, was not enough to change them overnight from idol worshippers to monotheists. Only a prolonged disciplining in the mitzvot of the Torah directing every moment of their existence could accomplish that.

 

Today, we have what is called the Baal Tshuva Movement where people who were previously not religious become observant. Sometimes a teenager gets interested in becoming more observant by attending an NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth) event or Shabbaton. Other times a student attends a Birthright trip to Israel and gets inspired. It is important for us to remember to keep in mind where these students are coming from and that they shouldn’t be expected to take on all of the mitzvot at once. I have seen students who were genuinely interested fall off course when attending a Yeshiva program where they are expected to take on too much at once. We must remember that B’nai Yisrael couldn’t handle taking on too many mitzvot at once and we must patiently help those who are newly religious to take on one mitzvah at a time.

 
Why Do People Think That Moshe Had Horns? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Anybody who has ever seen Michelangelo’s marble statue of “Moses” in Rome from the year 1513 may have noticed that he has two small horns on his head.

 

Where does the concept that Moshe had horns come from?

 

In Parshat Ki Tisa (Shmot 34:29) we read:

 

“And when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and the two Tablets of Testimony were in Moshe’s hand when he came down from the mountain, Moshe did not know that the skin of his face became radiant (karan ohr panav) when God spoke to him.”

 

Rashi comments that the word “karan” is a term having a common root with “karnayim”, horns because the light shines out and projects as a sort of “horn.”

 

A few sentences later we read (sentence 35):

 

“B’nai Yisrael saw Moshe’s face, that the skin of Moshe’s face became radiant (karan ohr p’nai Moshe), and Moshe replaced the cover over his face until he would come in to speak to God.”

 

Michelangelo’s sculpture is based on the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome in the late Third Century).

 

In sentence 29, Jerome took the word “karan” and translated it as “horned” (also a translation of the Hebrew word “keren” but one that does not fit as well as a “ray of light”).

 

The Greek Septuagint’s translation (which Jerome also had access to) is:

 

“Moses did not know that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified.”

 

Medieval scholars believed that when Jerome said “horned” he was referring to “glorified” and not actual horns.

 

Unfortunately, this concept was later misunderstood and often used in anti-Semitic ways especially at the end of the middle ages.

 

We learn from here why it is so important to improve our Hebrew and text skills and study the Torah in the original.

 

 
How to Make a Lasting Transformation Print E-mail
Friday, 18 February 2011

How can it be that forty days after the Revelation at Sinai, B’nai Yisrael were already looking to worship other gods? After all, weren’t the first two of the Ten Commandments “I am the Lord” and “You shall have no other gods but me”?

 

Nehama Leibowitz points out that the Torah wants to teach us that unfortunately this can happen. Miracles can’t change human nature but they may “shake the human soul out of its every day concepts. However, miracles cannot in themselves effect a lasting transformation”.

 

One single religious experience cannot change B’nai Yisrael from idol worshippers to monotheists. A person would need to study the Torah in depth and focus their days on observing the mitzvoth in order to make such a complete change.

 

In Jerusalem today, we see many young people who were not observant going through the process of becoming Ba’alei Tshuva (returning to Judaism). The most effective way for this to work is for the Baal Tshuva to take on the mitzvoth slowly, spending time learning in depth what Judaism is all about. One who takes on all of the mitzvoth at once without understanding the meaning behind them may feel overwhelmed and could potentially revert back to how they were before becoming observant. The spark of having been in Jerusalem will not be enough to guide them if they have not studied the texts or if they don’t have books to use for reference and further study.  Unfortunately this often turns into the “all or nothing” mentality- when they were in Jerusalem they tried taking on everything, now that they are back home they feel that it is too much and they will stop observing altogether.

 

At Midreshet Devora, we help our students take on greater mitzvah observance slowly with the hope that the mitzvoth that they have taken on will remain with them and that they will continue striving to grow spiritually and religiously even when they return home. When a student is under the impression that they must pray for an hour each morning, they may be overwhelmed and decide that since it is too much for them, they will not bother praying at all. However, when a young woman is taught what her obligations are in prayer, why certain prayers were instituted, why women are obligated to recite prayers such as the Blessings on Torah Study, the Blessings thanking God that we woke up in the morning as well as the Shma and the Amida each day then she will understand why these prayers should be integrated into her daily routine. She will also have the skills and knowledge to add more prayers when she has more time and in this way she can take on more mitzvoth at a pace that she is comfortable with and to continue to grow spiritually.

 

Looking back, it seems that it was overwhelming for B’nai Yisrael who had just left Egypt and still had a slave mentality to be told to give up idol worship as well as take on so many other new commandments all at once.

 

As they slowly learned about each mitzvah in depth, it was easier for B’nai Yisrael to take the mitzvoth on one at a time. Yet when they were about to enter the Land of Israel with Yehoshua they had to be reminded about the challenges that they would face and the importance of not following the practices of the nations of the land.

 

Instead of criticizing Am Yisrael for making the Golden Calf, maybe we would be better off looking at ourselves, finding the weaknesses that we need to work on and seeing how we can make ourselves more committed to Torah observance as a Tikkun (correction) for The Sin of the Golden Calf.

  
 
The True Meaning of Shabbat Print E-mail
Friday, 05 March 2010
 

In Shmot 31:13 we read the words: “You shall speak to B’nai Yisrael saying: Ach- Above all, you must observe my Shabbatot, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am God who sanctifies you”.

 

Who will know that through the observance of Shabbat God sanctifies Israel?

 

Nechama Leibowitz brings two different opinions in order to answer this question:

 

Rav Saadia Gaon says that the way that a Jew is known is through observance of Shabbat. If he is in town he closes his shop and if he is on the road he doesn’t travel.

 

In other words, he makes a statement by not working and not traveling.

 

According to Eben Ezra, Shabbat was not designed as a demonstration to the world, but to implant something into the consciousness of its observers, that we ourselves should know and be made aware of our election, the mission and aim of our existence “that I am the Lord who sanctifies you”.

 

The phrase “to know” implies that you should know that you are sanctified to Me. We may detect here an allusion to the obligation of every Jew to study Torah… On Shabbat the men and women would visit the prophets and the sages to hear Torah.

 

Eben Ezra’s point is that we should not just rest on Shabbat but we should put all of our energy into studying Torah, into spiritual advancement which we may not have time for during the week.

 

We learn from here that Shabbat is not only a break from the regular work week, it is a day to focus on Torah study and spirituality.

 
 
Take Two Sets of Tablets and Call Me in the Morning Print E-mail
Friday, 13 March 2009

In Parshat Ki Tisa, two sets of tablets are given by G-d to Moshe. Moshe shattered the first set as he descended from Mt. Sinai when he saw B’nai Yisrael worshipping the golden calf.  The second set of tablets were given after Moshe pleaded with G-d to forgive the Jewish people and give them another chance.

 

Each set had some unique characteristics. The first set was created solely by G-d as we see in Shmot 32:16, “The tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d engraved on the tablets.” Whereas the for the second tablets we see in Shmot 34:1, “God said to Moshe, ‘Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write upon the tablets the words that were on the first Tablets, which you broke.’”

 

Though G-d wrote on both sets of tablets, it was only the first set that had the quality of engraving by G-d, a permanence of words. We see in the Talmud, Eruvin 54a, “Had the first set of tablets not been shattered the Torah would never have been forgotten by Israel.”

 

Rashi comments that engraving is permanent and cannot be erased. By means of these permanently engraved tablets, the Torah would have been permanently “engraved” on the mind of Israel and would never be forgotten.

 

The first tablets were engraved when Bnei Yisrael were tzadikim (righteous) while the second tablets were given when they were Ba’alei Teshuva (penitents), making up for the sin of the golden calf.

 

Today we see many Jewish people around the globe coming back to the Jewish religion. Little by little we are witnessing many individuals searching for their connection to Judaism and working their way up spiritually to serve God.

 

In Jerusalem, we encounter numerous college students from diverse backgrounds on Birthright trips, searching for their roots as well as senior citizens who live in Jerusalem attending Megillah readings for the first time in decades.

 

People with strong Jewish backgrounds are also working on their own attributes and are increasing their observance of the Miztvot.

 

The power of Judaism in this very difficult period is stronger than ever.

 

We are all Ba’alei Teshuva, striving to return to the permanence of the first set of tablets in order to have the Torah engraved on our minds and in our hearts and never forgotten.

 
Fulfilling a Promise Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 February 2008

When B’nai Yisrael prayed to a golden calf shortly after God’s revelation at Sinai, God told Moshe (Shmot 32: 9-10) “I have seen this people and behold it is a stiff-necked people. And now, desist from Me. Let my anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them; I shall make you a great nation.”

Moshe prayed to God to save the nation and emphasized the fact that the merit of the Patriarchs and God’s oath to them should be enough to save Israel. In 32:13 Moshe says “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael, your servants, to whom you swore by Your Self, and said to them, ‘I will make your descendents as numerous as the stars of the heaven; all this land which I have spoken, I will give to your descendents and they will inherit it forever.’”

Rashi comments on the words “Asher nishbati lahem bach”, “To whom you swore by yourself”: You did not swear to them by something that is finite- neither by the heavens nor by the earth, neither by the mountains nor the hills, but only by Your Self. You are eternal and your oath remains forever.

After Akedat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) God sent an angel to call out to Avraham saying (Breisheet 22:16-17):  “By Myself I swear- the word of God- that because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one that I shall truly bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy.”

When there was a famine in the Land of Israel, God said to Yitzchak (Breisheet 26:3) “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your offspring will I give all these lands, and establish the oath that I swore to Avraham your father”.

After God changed Yaakov’s name to Yisrael (Breisheet 35:11-12), He said “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a congregation of nations shall descend from you, and kings shall issue from your loins. The land that I gave to Avraham and Yitzchak I will give to you; and to your offspring after you I will give the land.”

God promised the forefathers countless offspring who would inherit the Land of Israel. If God had annihilated the nation then His promise would not have been fulfilled.

At that point God renounced the intent of doing evil that He had said He would do to his people.

God’s promise to Avraham has been kept. The Jewish people have multiplied and returned to our land. Now we have to follow the Midrash Or HaAfelah and do our part to resemble the stars in the heaven, which no nation can dominate as opposed to the sand of the seashore, trampled by every tyrannical foot.

 

 
Take a Rest! The Importance of Shabbat Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 March 2007

The importance of observing Shabbat is emphasized in Parshat Ki Tisa.

Shmot 31:13- ".You must still preserve (tishmoru) My Shabbat, for it is a sign between Me and yourselves for generations to know that I, HaShem am making you holy. You shall therefore preserve (ushmartem) the Shabbat for it is sacred to you.Six days a week you will work but the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, sacred to God.Then B.nai Yisrael shall preserve (vishamru) the Shabbat to maintain the Shabbat for their generations, as an everlasting covenant. Between Me and B.nai Yisrael it is an everlasting sign; for in six days God made the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day he abstained from work (Shavat) and He rested (Vayinafash)."

According to Rav Kook in Shavat HaAretz "The bustle and confusion of every day affairs stifles the spiritual majesty of the Divine soul (residing in the nation) whose luster is prevented from illuminating the predominant material reality. The quality of life can be improved by affording a breathing space from the bustle of every day affairs. In this way the individual recovers from the influence of the mundane at frequent intervals, every Shabbat day."

The Chatam Sofer points out that not only do we have to rest on Shabbat, we also have to work the other six days of the week. If we don.t work the rest of the week then Shabbat will not serve as a reminder of the Exodus of Egypt when B.nai Yisrael finally rested after all of their hard work.

In the State of Israel we have a six day work week. The children go to school every day except for Shabbat. When Shabbat finally arrives the importance of Shabbat is felt.

The word Shabbat actually means to abstain from work. When workers in Israel go on strike they call it a "Shvita".

The root of the word "vayinafash" is "nofesh". In modern Hebrew "nofesh" is used in advertisements for Club Med style vacation getaways. Shabbat is the day to spiritually get away from the mundane. Rabbi Benjamin Blech explains that we work in order to have a day of rest and "resoul" ourselves and the rest of the world.

As Shabbat approaches, let.s keep in mind the true purpose of Shabbat and try to elevate ourselves to higher spiritual heights.

 
Never Give Up Hope Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 March 2006

In Parshat Ki Tisa, the tribe of Levi, even in the toughest of times did not give up hope.

Here is some background. God told Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai in Shmot 24:12, "Come up to me to the mountain and remain there. I will give you the tablets of stone, the Torah and the commandment, which I have written in order to teach them." At that point, God did not specify how many days Moshe would be up there. When almost 40 days went by and Moshe had still not returned, many were afraid that he would not be coming back.

According to Eben Ezra, B'nai Yisrael saw that no manna was falling on Mt. Sinai and many believed that Moshe could not possibly survive. They did what many do in a crisis situation, they panicked. Their panache ultimately led to Chet HaEgel, the sin of the golden calf.

The Gemara in Yoma 66b states that the tribe of Levi did not participate in Chet HaEgel. Rav Yehudah said: The tribe of Levi did not commit the sin of idolatry as it is stated in Shmot 32:26 "And Moshe stood in the gate of the camp and said: .Whoever is for God join me'- and all (kol) of the tribe of Levi gathered around him". According to Rashi the word kol, all, denotes that the entire tribe was kosher (did not sin).

What was the reward for the Leviim? They were separated to work in the Mishkan (tabernacle). "Bring the tribe of Levi near and have them stand before Aharon HaKohen and they should serve him" (Bamidbar 3:6). "At this time God separated the tribe of Levi to carry the case of God's covenant to stand before God, to serve Him and bless Him until this day" (Devarim 10:8).

The tribe of Levi did not lose hope even in the toughest of times. They were therefore given the honors that should have gone to the bechorim, the firstborn sons of each tribe who lost their privileges by worshipping the golden calf.

We must do what we can to emulate the tribe of Levi and even in the toughest of times, never give up hope.